As a GovCon strategist I work with companies not only helping them win work – but advising them on the best tactic to resolve issues that arise during performance. No doubt, capture and business development (sales) is important to every company’s leadership team. And contract start ups are equally deserving of the attention of the leadership team.
Congratulations on your contract award
(But hold your celebration)
You did the research, made the connections, formed a team of individuals and perhaps other firms. Then you wrote your proposal. And the Gods smiled on you and you won the contract. Your company is growing. But the real work has just begun.
Focus on how you are going to perform
In my 30 plus years in this business, too few companies go into the proposal phase with a clear plan detailing how they will perform successfully if they win. Instead they hire proposal consultants, like me, to write a proposal that is compelling and lays out a clear plan on how they will perform. Much of the time what we write is just short of fiction.
How does this happen? We proposal writers are not operating in bad faith – and neither are the companies that hire us. Much of what proposal writers do is interview the technical experts at our clients to uncover how they will do what it is that they do. We take what the experts tell us and turn it into performance plans, timelines, and descriptions of the qualifications that are required of the team that will be performing the contract, if they win. Winning is where the problem can begin.
Watch out for two situations at contract start up.
- Transitioning after winning a re-compete. Most companies that target winning a re-compete of an existing contract plan to use the current staff during the transition and throughout contract performance to implement their approach. This makes sense because these employees presumably know the work, the culture and the agency team. This can be good – but it must be handled carefully. The hardest part of any job, including managing a government contract, is managing complex relationships. Incumbent staff may be very likely to resist any changes to the “business as usual” that they have known. Therefore they are less than enthusiastic to the way you want to run your contract. Further incumbent staff are often loyal to the agency team, not their prior employer, and certainly not you – the new employer.
- Change Management. The agency team knows that they can’t tell you who to hire to manage and perform the contract, but they – like most humans – don’t like change. Even if the were not completely in synch with the outgoing contract management team, they were familiar with them and knew what to expect. So while I advise my clients to consider putting their own manager in place as soon as they can, this is not always possible or easy to do. Installing your own contract leadership team is one of the most effective ways to take control of the contract and make sure your team is complying with the contract requirements. This team, your team, is much more likely to look out for your company’s interest at least as much as they are looking out for themselves and the agency.
- The contract does not reflect reality. Most contracts contain irregularities. Many times the requirements in the contract do not reflect the true expectations of the agency team. There may be errors or there may be requirements that don’t reflect what the agency wants you to do. And there may be performance expectations that are NOT in the contract, but that have become the operational norm. You could also encounter a situation where the contract contains actions that the agency team will take, but that the agency team is unaware of and therefore they have never performed them. The solution? Go over the contract in detail at any kick off meeting. And then follow up on action items. Document everything of substance that was discussed in the meeting and provide a copy of your documentation to the government team, including the contracting officer. And then continue to document, document, and document again. Learn the delicate art of asking for clarifications, guidance. And pursue contract modifications to make the contract reflect reality. And remember that you goal is to do all of this without making your client look like they are wrong. The goal here is to work together as a team and to keep your contract and build your past performance. In this business the need to manage complex relationships cannot be understated.
Every contract has issues
Your best offense is reading and understanding your contract. Including all those FAR clauses that many people, often in small businesses, never read until it is too late. The purpose of a contract is to define the roles and responsibilities of all parties to the contract. This includes the FAR clauses that are incorporated by reference. It’s important to know what the government can demand of you, what you can demand of the government, what your rights are when issues arise, and what the government rights are when issues arise. And they will arise. Be prepared!